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UK’s 4G spectrum auction pushed back to first half of 2012

More 4G woes for the UK folks; Ofcom has announced that there could be a delay to the auction of the next generation of mobile spectrum.

Now pushed to the first half of 2012 – originally thought to take place in the first quarter – the delay in the auction will invariably increase the time it takes for us to see any high speed mobile broadband hitting in the UK, currently expected to arrive sometime in 2013.

This month, Ofcom was expected to produce a document of guidelines for the auction, after having carefully weighed up a number of technical and competitive factors. Ofcom is now saying that the report probably won’t be ready until November.

A portion of the 4G spectrum will apparently be ringfenced for Freeview’s digital TV transmissions. Keeping in line with the Digital Switchover, due to end next year, this needs to be relocated before the auction.

4G could also potentially interfere with air traffic control signals, which is something that obviously takes a priority before negoitations can begin. As much as we’d like to stream Nyan Cat videos faster than we currently can, we’d rather be stuck with our slower stone age speeds than have planes falling out of the sky.

There is also a competitive hurdle to be jumped in the shape of O2’s challenge to the proposed auction of frequencies. It is thought that O2 and Vodafone stand to lose out against Everything Everywhere and Three, as Ofcom’s proposal would bee to see all four operators getting a fair slice of the available spectrum – O2 and Vodafone have already invested in 900MHz spectrum and there are concerns that the remaining networks would be able to get other licences for less money.

News of the delay also puts Three on the back foot, which as the UK’s smallest network, doesn’t have anywherenear as much spare capacity as its rivals.

A court case would delay the rollout of 4G licences, which would benefit the UK’s three largest companies, O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere, but severely disadvantage Three, the smallest and newest mobile carrier.

David Dyson, chief executive of Three, told the Guardian: “There is a growing realisation of the role mobile can play in meeting the government’s universal broadband commitment by 2015. Any significant delay risks impacting this and will further weaken competition to the detriment of UK consumers. Refarming 2G spectrum without any of the reallocation seen across Europe created an incentive for those gifted spectrum to delay the auction. Ofcom and the government need a clear plan to ensure their plans are not undone by narrow self-interest.”

Three has already been allocated extra 3G coverage from the European Commission, a concession required from Orange and T-Mobile for the Everything Everywhere merger to go ahead.

Source: FT

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